Dr. Wayne Poe Cockrell of Orange Beach, Alabama, died peacefully and surrounded by his family on Aug. 26, 2022. He was 90.
Wayne was the oldest son of the late Marion Everett and Vivian Poe Cockrell, both of West Point, Mississippi, and was preceded in death by his brother Marion Everett, Jr. He is survived by the sweetest and by far most beautiful of the three children, Mamie Seitz of West Point.
He was married 62 years to Harriet Cox Cockrell ("Nana") before she died in 2014. They had four children, all who more or less survive, Naomi Cockrell Sanders of Fairhope, Alabama, Wayne Poe Cockrell, Jr., of Daphne, Alabama, Mike Cockrell of Laurel, Mississippi and Evelyn Cockrell Ballard of St. Petersburg, Florida. Naomi was married to the late Melvin "Butch" Sanders of Fairhope, Wayne is married to Jeanene Q. Cockrell of Daphne, Mike is married to Scott Jennings of Laurel, and Evelyn is married to Jeff Ballard of St. Pete. Wayne is also survived by seven grandchildren, Allison Cockrell, Beth Britt, Wayne Sanders and Mary Claire "Vivian" Ballard of Fairhope, David Cockrell of Keystone, Colorado, Anna Schoenbaum of Austin, Texas, and Andrew Cockrell of La Verkin, Utah, to all of whom he was known as "Opi" (German for grandpa, although we are aware of no family or other connection to Germany). Wayne is preceded in death by one grandson, Wyatt Ballard of St. Petersburg. Opi is also survived by 11 great grandchildren.
According to the answer to Question 7 of Standard Certificate of Live Birth Number 30385 (or 31386, depending on which you believe since the numbers are marked through) issued by Clay County, Mississippi on or about Oct. 1, 1931 (the day in the certificate is marked through as well, so we can't be sure), Wayne was (and we aren't making this up) born "legitimate." While Opi would no doubt appreciate and enjoy a full and lively debate on why and how the State of Mississippi deemed it within the state's authority to determine in 1931 which births were legitimate and which were not, here is not the time nor place. For our purposes, despite the other irregularities on the birth certificate, we will take the state's declaration at face value.
Dr. Cockrell was, indeed, a legitimate graduate of Harvard Medical School and The University of Mississippi Medical Center. He practiced family medicine in what was then the very small town of Magee, Mississippi, for almost 20 years, where he delivered babies, performed surgery, stitched cuts, removed tonsils and treated gunshot wounds. When he (or his wife Harriet) tired of accepting payment for medical services in fresh tomatoes, black eyed peas and summer squash, he moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and practiced emergency medicine for the Singing River Hospital System in Pascagoula, Mississippi, for almost 30 years. While on the gulf coast, Wayne and Harriet developed a strong love for sailing and all things water (they lived on a sailboat for 2 years), so they retired to the Alabama Gulf Coast when Wayne could no longer afford medical malpractice insurance. It was there Opi taught his grandkids to sail, to water ski, how to drive a boat and how to sneak into a little-known back door at the FloraBama without having to pay a cover or show an ID.
While as far as his children know everything about Dr. Cockrell's birth and medical practice was more or less legitimate, he certainly participated in much during his life that was anything but. Because the small high school where his children were "educated" lacked necessary resources to fully staff a faculty, he rode his motorcycle (bow tie and all) to the school and taught physics during his lunch hour despite having no teaching certificate or formal training as a teacher. Magee wasn't known for its production of athletes in Olympic sports, so he organized and coached a springboard diving team primarily, we believe, because the sport measured distance from the water in meters and he considered it a lesson in the metric system. When his oldest child won a pony in a local horse show raffle, he relented to the demands of his other children and, within a year or so, owned 25 horses, a dozen or so cows, an acre or two of vegetables, 110 acres of useless pastureland (that would later double as the football practice field for the high school despite shin high cut hay) and became an illegitimate farmer. It was during these years he learned that his children could more or less be seen as livestock (and worked as such), and he treated them for worms, infections, cuts and other ailments using veterinarian prescribed medications. Speaking of illegitimate, there is a debate among Wayne's children whether or not he really taught Sunday School. Two say he did; two say they certainly hope he didn't and, if he did, it is blocked from their memory by a graceful God.
The common thread among Wayne's less legitimate activities during his life was a deep, uncompromising love for his children and, later, his grandchildren. Growing up in a small town didn't afford his children exposure to opportunities and experiences children in larger towns enjoyed, so he and Harriet created them. When not dragging them around to swim meets, diving competitions or horse shows, Wayne and Harriet loaded their kids in the station wagon and drove them to Jackson, Mississippi or New Orleans, Louisiana to water ski on big water, experience live theatre, eat raw oysters at the world's best restaurants and walk down Bourbon Street, enjoy big time sports and gain exposure to life outside a town of fewer than one thousand. When it came time for them to be educated, Wayne and Harriet spared no expense and found no sacrifice too large to provide the best education available.
Most illegitimate of all of Wayne's endeavors, however, was his adoption of Alabama football as a pastime. Dr. Cockrell graduated from Harvard and the University of Mississippi; two institutions known primarily for academic excellence. When he moved to the Alabama Gulf Coast, he woke one day and declared himself a devoted Crimson Tide fan. The only explanation he could give for the transformation (other than another reason to drink and cuss with his good friend Bob Chappelle) was a love of Paul "Bear" Bryant. When asked why, he said, "because The Bear removed his hat when coaching indoors at the Superdome, he treated his opponents with respect, and he liked his whisky straight up." All, he said, indicative of a true gentleman.
His family will have a legitimate celebration to remember Wayne Poe Cockrell at some point in the future. Opi seemed to be in no hurry to die, and his family won't be in a hurry to see him off. The celebration will involve a lot of screaming kids, sand, a motorboat or two, at least two pots of Nana's gumbo, World Famous Chili and her Mexican cornbread, an Alabama football game on TV, and whiskey straight up. If anyone gets hurt, we still have a doctor, three nurses and a vet in the family.
While Wayne could grow roses in concrete and loved plants, his family not so much. Please don't send flowers or plants to anyone's house (food, of course, is welcome, especially pasta and caramel brownies…you know who you are). Instead, if friends want to remember him best, please make a very large and generous donation in his memory to The University of Mississippi Medical Center Foundation. Here is how to do that: Make checks payable to The UMMC Fund, include the area you wish to support in the memo section (Wayne was particularly fond of Professor Arthur Guyton, who he revered as deity (really, who keeps an autographed portrait of their physiology professor in the den?), so feel free to mark your contribution to the Arthur C. Guyton Distinguished Lectureship Fund), and mail to:
University of Mississippi Medical Center
2500 N. State St.
Jackson, MS 39216
Of you prefer, you can donate online at https://www.umc.edu/Office_of_Development/Give_Now.html
Please make Wayne's name prominent on your check so he gets credit in the afterlife. We will take all the help we can get.